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President's column

18 September 17

Headline incidents of violence during August, and the various reactions, to my mind indicate the importance not only of the rule of law but of ensuring justice at home as well as promoting it abroad

by Graham Matthews

Last month I attended the American Bar Association (ABA) annual meeting in New York, followed by the Canadian Bar annual meeting in Montreal. I was going to write about my experience at these events for this column and maybe I will in future. However two things happened whilst I was across the Pond and I believe they deserve some comment from the perspective of the news as I saw it there.

The first was when some young man with an apparent hatred for those who think differently from him decided to drive his car into a crowd of anti-protest demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia. We now know that this was over the removal of a statue. One young woman lost her life and others were injured. The failure, as many saw it, of their President, Donald Trump, to condemn properly the white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis and other hate groups went worldwide. In the USA it filled every broadcast. I was caught up in a protest outside Trump Towers where “the Donald” took shelter for a few days.

Will that young man in Charlottesville now ever get a fair trial? The world’s media will be there, and there are likely to be protests. Virginia has the death penalty for murder and has apparently executed more people than any other state. The trial will be aired on TV – it is unlikely to be on the same scale as the OJ Simpson trial, but it I am sure it will make for compulsive viewing for many. 

Barcelona, and afterwards

Then in Barcelona another, we understand, young man, filled again presumably with hatred for those who think differently, drove a van down the crowded Las Ramblas, killing 14 and injuring many more. Unlike in the USA, an organisation claimed responsibility for this attack. One of our members narrowly escaped injury in Barcelona. B`t after giving the world’s media his eyewitness account of what happened, he was then subjected to online abuse and threats for no reason other than his religion. How did we ever get to this place in history?

By the time I got to Montreal they knew a Canadian had been killed in Barcelona. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave, in my opinion, a very measured speech about the importance of the rule of law, about justice being seen to be done and against kneejerk reaction. Meanwhile President Trump was sending more troops to Afghanistan to deal with IS.

To me Justin Trudeau struck the right note. I’d attended several sessions at the ABA annual meeting about the importance of upholding the rule of law and their “rule of law initiative”, on which they spend more than $30 million promoting it worldwide. Justice though, like charity, sometimes starts at home.

Speaking of charity, it seems fitting for me to end by reminding you that when you renew your practising certificate online this year, please take heed of our plea for you to donate £10 to our charity the Lawscot Foundation. If every member gave just £10 – via text message; it couldn’t be simpler – we could help 40 young people from deprived or challenging backgrounds through their legal education journey.   

Graham Matthews is President of the Law Society of Scotland
e: president@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @grahammatthews

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